Warranty & Support
Handheld Vacuum Review
Why Buy a Handheld Vacuum?
Hand vacuum cleaners are convenient for quickly picking up small messes such as cereal on the kitchen floor, dirty footprints on the stairs or pet hair on your living room sofa. These small vacuum cleaners are also handy for tidying up your car by removing dried leaves and dirt on the car seats, car mats and floors. Because of the cordless design you can easily store a small vacuum cleaner in a closet or leave it in your car in between cleanings.
We found the best portable vacuum cleaners are lightweight, have a good amount of suction and hold a charge for a decent amount of time. Here are some quick points about the best handheld vacuums we reviewed:
The Black & Decker Dustbuster, our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award winner, performed well in our testing, removing sawdust and pet hair with relative ease from carpet, hardwood flooring and a car seat. It was able to do all of this while still being one of the quietest and lightest – both essential for a hand vacuum.
Our Top Ten Reviews Silver Award winner, the Hoover Air Cordless, was by far the best for battery life, so if you want to be cord-free and cover a lot of ground this is a good option. This handheld vacuum struggled a little on carpeting but cleaned well on the hardwood flooring and car seats.
The Eureka Easy Clean was the only corded model to make the top three, winning our Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award. If you don't mind having to plug your hand vac in this is a good option with impressive suction on a variety of surfaces. It was also good at removing pet hair.
What Sucks and What Doesn’t: Testing Handheld Vacuums
The two most important components of the best handheld vacuums are the vacuuming performance and portability. Suction power is important, especially if you are trying to pull up stubborn dirt in crevices and corners, or pet hair that tends to stick to upholstery.
Portability focuses on how easy it is to carry around a small vacuum while using it. It also looks at convenience factors, such as the battery life and how heavy the machine is.
In addition to the obvious functions of pick-up and maneuverability, we also considered design features that give some handheld vacuum cleaners a leg up on the competition. For example, products such as the Hoover Air Cordless use a HEPA filtration system that means they meet air quality standards set by the U.S. Department of Energy and remove 99.97 percent of dust particles and keep them from blowing back into the air during vacuuming.
We performed many tests to determine how well each hand vacuum picks up a variety of common items, including cereal and wood shavings. We rubbed dog hair into carpeting and went into volunteer pet owner homes to test how well portable vacuums were able to pick up both cat and dog hair from upholstered furniture such as couches and chairs to help us determine which models had better suction.
To further test suction capabilities of small hand vacuum cleaners we put screws in a flat-topped container and recorded how many screws each unit could hold for five seconds. Those capable of holding more weight received higher marks for suction.
We measured the decibels produced by each hand vacuum cleaner as well, which can impact the overall experience of vacuuming.
As part of the portability tests we timed how long the battery lasted when fully charged. This is important if you need to tackle more than one mess or have an unusually big mess, such as dried leaves or cookie crumbs in your car, that may require some extra cleaning time without the hassle of having to recharge the battery in the middle of the cleanup.
We weighed each portable vacuum cleaner to give you a good idea how cumbersome and tiring it may become while using the vacuum. We also considered how long it takes to charge all of the battery-powered units. The ones that charge more quickly scored better. The corded models got a lower score simply because you have to be near a plug to use them.
Most of the hand vacuums we tested come with attachments for getting into folds in furniture or corners in staircases more easily. The crevice tool is long and narrow so it fits more easily around the base of car seats that are bolted to the car floor and more difficult to vacuum around. The Black & Decker Dustbuster has a crevice tool as part of the main body design rather than as a separate attachment. It also extends to give you a longer spout, adding to the maneuverability of the vacuum.
The brush tool is important for loosening up stubborn dirt or dried-on messes from carpeting. Using a circular motion the brush tool can help detach dirt from carpet threads while suctioning them up into the canister at the same time.
Adding a wide-mouth tool, such as the one included with the MetroVac Vac N Go, gives you the ability to vacuum a larger area with one pass rather than having to continually repeat smaller passes to get up the same amount of mess.
When a Handheld Vacuum Isn’t Enough
Handheld vacuum cleaners are small and portable, which works for small messes and tricky surfaces such as stairs, furniture and cars. However, we have thoroughly tested vacuums of many sizes and for many uses. Here are a few of those different types of vacuums with a link to each review page where you can find our top picks.
Upright Vacuums – Upright vacuums are traditionally what people imagine when they think about vacuum cleaners. The entire vacuum is encompassed within the body of the unit, making it easy to pass over carpeting, and in many cases on hardwood, too. Upright vacuums can have an easily removable canister or require a bag to hold the dirt and dust it sucks up. The Dyson Animal 2 is our top pick for upright vacuum cleaners.
Canister Vacuums – Canister vacuums are designed to help clean your whole house. The attachments make it versatile so you can clean thick carpet, upholstery and drapes. The long hose that connects the vacuum wand to the canister makes it easier to maneuver through each room and around furniture without having to carry and plug in the vacuum as you move around a large area or between rooms. We found the Bissell Cyclonic canister vacuum easy to use while still being friendly on the household budget.
Shop Vacuums – The are high powered vacuums that can handle wet and dry messes both inside and outside of your home. Leaves, twigs and sawdust all are easy to pick up with these vacuums. While they do have a lot of power behind them, they are not heavy and are actually rather easy to maneuver around objects. Models such as the Vacmaster are more suited for outdoor use rather than for daily, indoor cleaning chores.
Robot Vacuums – Robot vacuums are the latest cleaning craze on the market. These intuitive vacuums can be programed to move across your floor at certain times and in specified areas so you don’t have to worry about vacuuming as part of your daily cleaning regimen. The best robot vacuums, such as the bObsweep bObi, come with a remote control so that you can quickly pick up spills in between scheduled cleanings.
Carpet Cleaners – Carpet cleaners look like vacuums and are used in a similar way, but rather than sucking dirt, these machines are used to deep clean carpets using water. As you pass the cleaner over your carpet, part of the machine sprays soapy water over the dirty area while the suction hose pulls the muddied water back up and stores it in a waterproof canister. We found the Hoover SteamVac to be the best carpet cleaner, with the ability to pick up stains better than the competition during our tests.
Our Final, Squeaky-Clean Thought on Hand Vacuums
Whether you need a handheld vacuum for cleaning your car or spot-cleaning in a busy household, hand vacs are the perfect solution for quick, effective tidying up. They are more portable and generally quieter than traditional vacuums.
Contributing Reviewer: Noel Case & Linda Thomson